Time was when you knew who your enemies were - and there were handy little pictures that Punch cartoonists and other sages could use to illustrate things and make it all crystal clear.
The French were the cockerel, or Napoleon in that silly jacket. The Brits were John Bull in his union jack waistcoat, or a big growling lion. And the Russians? The Russians were a big black bear, all scary and evil.
The image of the bear was brushed aside under communism - Smokin' Joe Stalin and his gulags of death being quite scary enough for those of us on the other side of the Eastern Bloc, without having to introduce a big roaring animal for extra scariness - but now, all of a sudden, it's returned.
I'm not sure why, but I keep seeing the word "Bear" (initial cap essential for Brits, but not our transatlantic friends) when Russia's policy towards South Ossetia and Georgia is concerned. Now I don't pretend to know everything about this - except to imagine that somehow, somewhere, oil and gas resources may well be involved, and that thousands of innocent people, mostly the poor, will suffer - but what I do know is that I didn't read about the "Bear" until recently. Where's it come from?
I seem to recall the word 'jingoism' itself comes from a music-hall ditty about fighting the "Bear" over Constantinople, if my creaky GCSE history knowledge isn't letting me down, so perhaps it's a throwback to that kind of simplistic jingoistic drivel. But it's not just the Brits who are suddenly referring to Russia as ursine either, as this selection of headlines from recent British, Canadian and US news sources shows:
The bear swaggers again
Arrogant west has finally ‘lost’ proud Russia bear
The party's over for Europe: The bear is back
Georgia: The costs of alienating the Russian Bear
Why US-Poland missile deal rouses Russian bear
Stand up to Russian bully Bear
For Bush-Cheney-Rice, how to punish the Russian bear?
Russia's neighbours know the bear best
The bear is back
Georgian Army Proves to Be No Match for the Russian Bear
Russian Bear needs to be watched like a hawk
Opinion: As the Bear Awakens – Obama and Russia
Russian bear awakens from its hibernation
HAS THE RUSSIAN BEAR AWAKENED?
Analysis: NATO grapples with the angry bear
So, is there really a 'bear' and has it 'awakened' (awoken?) - ? Why use such outdated nonsense to describe a complex international situation? Are we so stupid that we can't understand things unless countries are described as animals? Is this "scary bear awakens from its hibernation, now we're gonna die! Quick, get those missile 'defence' shields up!" narrative something that's trickling down from the top? Or is it just a lazy journalism meme?
It has got me thinking, though. I reckon the British lion is a bit outdated nowadays, and a new creature needs to be found to represent our great land. I think a lion's far too scary, and besides it's not even a species that lives here. Maybe a hedgehog. Or a badger with TB. Something like that. All suggestions welcome...
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